What Is The Difference Between Cheap And Expensive Wine?

​It is an interesting fact that when most people think about wine, they also usually think about the cost of it. No other alcoholic drink generates so much controversy over price as wine does. Moreover, no other drink has such a wide variation in price without necessarily having an equally wide variation in quality for that price.


When it comes down to it, the pricing of a wine is as confusing as trying to establish what the quality of a wine is. It seems that everybody has an opinion on how much a bottle of wine is worth. But yet, that view is not necessarily reflected in the price of the bottle.

Is A Wine Value For Money?

You can buy extremely cheap bottles of wine that taste exquisite, and you can spend a fortune on a bottle that tastes appalling. Just how are you supposed to figure out what is the difference between the cheap wine and an expensive wine?

There just doesn't seem to be an easy way to know if you are getting value for money.

In this article, we will look at some of the factors that make a difference between a cheap wine and an expensive wine. And we will also consider whether it is really worth spending a lot to get a quality bottle.

There are many factors involved in the price of a bottle of wine. Let's go through some of them one by one and try and shed some light on this complicated and confusing subject.

Age of The Wine

As soon as somebody talks about an old bottle of wine, it is automatically assumed by many people that this means the bottle is more expensive.

But that is simplifying things too much. Just because a wine is older does not make it better. If you were to take a cheap bottle of wine and keep it for a few years in a wine refrigerator, all that you would end up with is an expensive bottle of vinegar.

A wine that ages well has to be specially produced for aging. The grapes have to be specially selected, often from low yield vines, and the resulting wine has to be monitored carefully to ensure it will age well.

This is because the wine that goes into the bottle initially will not be the same wine that is taken out of the bottle after it is aged. The aging process naturally alters the taste and character of the wine.

Big fruit flavors start to mellow, and the bitter tannins in red wine start to relax. A good aged wine starts to feel smooth in your mouth as you taste it. Many subtle characteristics come to the surface in the taste even if they were not there in the original bottling.

It takes skill and much knowledge and experience to know exactly what kind of wine will come out of the bottle after years of storage.

When you are paying for an old bottle of wine, you are also paying for all the superior winemaking knowledge and techniques that went into producing it, perhaps even lower sulfite levels.

Oak Barrels

Linked to the age of wine, as far as cost is concerned, is the storage of wine in oak barrels. Many people believe that wine stored in oak barrels should taste better and therefore should be more expensive.

When wine is stored in oak barrels, it takes on the subtle flavors of the oak itself. This often comes across as a flavor of vanilla and baking spice.

The other thing that the barrel does is to expose the wine to oxygen. This has the resulting effect of making the bitter tannins less intense, and so this tends to make the taste of the wine smoother.

Another side effect of being stored in barrels is that some of the wine starts to evaporate although in small quantities. This does tend to make barrel wine more concentrated than it otherwise would be.

Wine storage in oak barrels tends to push costs up for a few reasons. Firstly, as we have mentioned, there is a perception of quality when wine is aged in a barrel. Also, oak trees themselves produce very few barrels from each one. A new barrel can cost nearly $3000 and only store about 300 bottles of wine.

Then there's the cost of storing the wine for such extended periods of time. Somebody has to monitor and maintain the quality over a long time.

Winemakers have come up with cheaper alternatives to storing in oak barrels. Techniques such as using oak chips dropped into the wine are a cheaper way to add that oaky flavor. However, they have the side effect of adding additional flavors that can sometimes taste a bit off.

Quality Of The Vineyard

The vineyard, even the particular part of the vineyard, affects the price of the wine. To produce great tasting grapes, wineries often reduce the yields that they produce to create a more intense wine.

Obviously, with lower yields, less wine is produced from the same vineyard location. This pushes the price up of those wines.

In fact, some of the best vineyards around are situated in places where it is difficult to grow grapes.

Added to the general economics of supply and demand for a great wine, these selective vineyards can charge even more for their wines than you would expect just from their production costs.

Branding, Packaging And The Cork

Wine producers are marketers also, so they understand that often what you see on the supermarket shelf can have an influence on the price of the wine.

So another way of differentiating a cheap wine from an expensive wine, and even making a cheap wine more costly to buy, is simply by putting it into better-looking packaging.

You will naturally pay more for a nice-looking label, and you will often end up willing to pay more for a wine that has a cork instead of the screwtop.

Economies Of Scale

Lower-quality wines are often produced in bulk. These large volumes of production spread over many bottles keep the costs down and help to keep them cheap.

Expensive wines from high-quality grapes tend to be produced in lower quantities. And that is because it is harder to grow the grapes, and so production costs cannot be spread over so many bottles. This adds to the cost of the wine.

The Price - And Nothing Else

You might be shocked and surprised to realize that another significant difference between cheap and expensive wine is simply the price - and nothing else. The price?

Yes, savvy wine producers have realized that just by putting up the price of a cheap bottle, people automatically start to think it is a higher-quality wine. It is remarkable how our psychology about price influences our judgment of a product.

Tests have shown that many people will judge a wine to be of higher quality if they are told that the price is higher before they taste it. We have been conditioned to think that higher price means higher quality. We tend to think that you get what you pay for.

This kind of psychology doesn't just apply to regular wine drinkers. Even wine experts have often found themselves unable to differentiate between cheap and expensive wines if they are not told how much the wine costs.

In blind taste tests, many experts have been found to be mistaken about how much a wine actually costs based upon the taste of it.

Because of economies of scale, and more efficient methods of production, it is entirely possible for a cheaper wine to taste just as good as a more expensive wine. But yet, in our minds, we automatically think that a more expensive wine should taste better. Even if it does not, we still trick ourselves into thinking that it does.

This brings us to perhaps the most important point of this article...

​Just Buy What You Like

Many people ask what is the difference between a cheaper wine and more expensive wine, and when it comes down to it, it is really about which wines you like rather than how expensive they are.

It is absolutely possible to get high-quality cheap wines these days. Moreover, if you are willing to overlook the snobbery of the price or the labeling of the bottle, you can enjoy some wonderful tastes and aromas from wine that doesn't burn a hole in your pocket.

In this article, we have looked at some of the factors that separate a cheap wine from an expensive wine. And we have shown you some of the tricks that winemakers use to make you a think a wine deserves to be more expensive. We hope you have found this information useful.

Photo by k0a1a.net